Politics, News and Bigots: the Nature of Low Hanging FruitJune 6, 2010
Hardly a day goes by this election year without some new point of intrigue taking the spotlight. While most have nothing to do with the performance of a particular candidate, the justification usually used in bringing it up is it speaks to the character of the individual concerned. Given such news nuggets spread like a virus, they are an effective weapon. Ironically, their use lacks morality and speaks to the character of the person bringing it up in the first place.
Recently in South Carolina, just such attacks took place against Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley. First, an unsubstantiated claim of infidelity surfaced. Will Folks, a former press secretary to Governor Sanford, claimed on his website he had “inappropriate physical relationship” years before. For the most part, Mr. Folks has received a free pass on this while Ms. Haley faces the distraction of defending herself. In the end, Folk’s website benefits with increased traffic.
Mr. Folks fires this stink bomb, “The truth in this case is what it is. Several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki[i],” followed by “I will not be discussing the details of that relationship, nor will I be granting any additional interviews about it to members of the media beyond what I have already been compelled to confirm.[ii]” In other words, he claims to support her bid for Governor then accuses her of cheating on her husband with him, but claims some moral high ground by refusing to comment further. The only thing Will Folks proves, beyond question, is his lack of moral fiber. If true, he had an affair with a married woman, if false he is a bold-faced liar.
It should be noted, Mr. Folks did not keep his word regarding details. He has posted copies of phone records with late night calls to Ms. Haley[iii]. Of course, given that he worked for her campaign at the time that, in itself, is not unusual. Another point of interest is his refusal to name the individuals that approached him in the first place. If he looks for credibility, that is an obvious, first step.
While it would not be hard to call Mr. Folks a doddering jackass, his claims (true or not) bring to light a larger problem American voters face – we are fed intrigue over substance by the media. Reporting of this nature is the normal course of business for news organizations. For example, the New York Times ran an article that sources Mr. Folks’ website but provides no independent sources[iv]. In their defense, sources for such intrigue are hardly ever available beyond the person making the claim, but that is the point, without confirmation it is intrigue and not news and belongs in the gossip columns.
There was a time when bringing the news to the citizens was a public service; now, news is a profit center. No longer are politicians, or anyone else for that matter, forced to provide proof of a claim, the news organizations simply report it as a statement and source each other’s reports rather than conduct true investigative reporting. News today is a bottom-line function of business. As Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor on The Nation, put it “Reporting–real, gritty, hands-on journalism–costs serious money[v].” That is a problem for news organizations with a profit motive.
The obvious result being news feeds us a constant stream of five-second sound bites sandwiched between commercials. Rather than a comprehensive study of candidate positions, we have scandal, scandal that exists because news organizations report innuendo as fact. The news media becomes the unwitting, giving them the benefit of doubt, accomplices of people with self-serving motives that lead to an ever-expanding release of useless tripe.
Tripe is not too strong a word either. Not to be out done, South Carolina Senator Jake Knott put his two-cents into the fray by calling his colleague Representative Haley, along with President Obama, “ragheads” on a live radio broadcast. In one quote broadcast during the June 02, 2010 broadcast of the show Pub Politics[vi], Senator Knott stated, “She’s a fucking raghead,” and later “She’s a raghead that’s ashamed of her religion trying to hide it behind being Methodist for political reasons.” The show decided not to post the interview on its website. Senator Knott apologized for his use of the “F-word.”
On a personal note, it would not surprise me to learn that children who have nightmares about pedophiles see Senator Jake Knott’s image. It would not surprise me to see photographs of Senator Jake Knott attending illegal dogfights or Ku Klux Klan rallies. It would not surprise me to learn he beats his wife. Of course, I am not saying he is a pedophile or participates in these activities but they do make good sound bites. Perhaps it’s best to think of the comments as having just as much credibility as his “raghead” comment and give the good Senator the opportunity to deny them.
As Senator Knott’s comments illustrate, the more outlandish the statement – the more press coverage resulting in less and less coverage about the issues the next group of elected officials face. While his comments are certainly news, taken in context with the other items of intrigue it seems the news outlets have little room for meaningful reporting that has any use in the current election cycle.
With news coverage reduced to the low hanging fruit that fits nicely between advertising, citizens cannot be blamed for failing to understand larger issues that remain hidden from view. We need serious journalism that investigates claims. While that may prevent the scoop, it does give the whole story and that is something we desperately need today. I do not plan to vote for Ms. Haley but I do not accept painting her with the brush of innuendo from unscrupulous and bigoted sources. She is a serious candidate with well thought-out positions and deserves to be addressed on her positions rather than the stupidity of the current news cycle.
[i] Folks, Will. “Will Folks: Letting The Chips Fall.” FITSNews. 24 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.fitsnews.com/2010/05/24/will-folks-letting-the-chips-fall/>.
[iii] ““Haley-gate:” Night Calls.” FITSNews. 28 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.fitsnews.com/2010/05/28/haley-gate-night-calls/>.
[iv] Dewan, Shaila. “Sex Scandal Claim Rattles South Carolina Politics Again – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 25 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/us/politics/26haley.html?scp=1&sq=scandal&st=cse>.
[v] “Investigative Reporting Costs Money.” The Nation. Ed. Katrina Vanden Heuvel. 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 06 June 2010. <http://www.thenation.com/blog/investigative-reporting-costs-money>.